Private Wireless Networks for Everyday Enterprise: Bridging the Information Gap

By Dr. Rikin Thakker, Chief Technology Officer, WIA

Advancements in public mobile networks have enabled new economies while radically changing consumer expectations of connectivity on the go. However, mobile networks also have the power to be transformative while staying in one place with Private Wireless Networks (PWNs). PWNs are an exciting innovation, enabling new efficiencies in sectors ranging from manufacturing to healthcare. A report recently published by IoT Analytics found that mentions of PWNs in global companies’ earnings calls increased by 152% from Q4 2021 to Q1 2022, with mentions now popping up in 1.1% of all surveyed calls. The Internet of Things (IoT) concept, which never truly matured in the enterprise space, is now being revived due to the unique applications that private networks are unlocking. Hand-in-hand with an increase in excitement and chatter is the International Data Corporation’s prediction that the annual private network market will grow from $1.7 billion in 2021 to $8.3 billion in 2026.

However, despite the growing market momentum for PWNs, utilizing both LTE and, increasingly, 5G, the wireless ecosystem still lacks straightforward channels for enterprise customers to identify, purchase, and deploy appropriate network solutions. This potentially byzantine process, along with a lack of accessible resources detailing how PWNs can benefit an organization, has a chilling effect on adoption and leaves potential revenue streams untapped.

There is significant ambiguity regarding the implementation of PWNs. Misconceptions around the vendor ecosystem, availability of spectrum, and control of the network after implementation are some of the contributing reasons why enterprises are unwilling to deploy PWNs—even when they have the capital to do so.

For example, it is often marketed that PWNs will provide enterprises with control of their network, along with solutions for coverage and increased capacity. While PWNs can empower enterprises to take control, the practicalities of controlling the network in-house present additional burdens for organizations seeking to adopt this technology. Often, they are not aware of the availability of vendors and operators who could manage the operation of a PWN on their behalf. Bridging this information gap should be a priority for PWN vendors looking to expand their market.

There are also misconceptions around which spectrum bands can be used for PWNs—a prevalent one being that private networks can only be deployed using the Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS). Availability of CBRS spectrum in the U.S. has promised the reliability of LTE and 5G as part of private enterprise networks. However, CBRS and private networks have become synonymous, and a lack of understanding around CBRS and the availability of other spectrum bands for PWNs through cellular operators has kept many enterprises away from considering them, as this would require them to wade into unknown territory. For enterprises, the following steps and questions need to be considered before making any decisions on implementation and vendors:

1. Understand the ecosystem

It is important to know the vendor options that are available to you. To build a PWN, you need radios (base-station), spectrum (CBRS is one option), cables and antennas, and backhaul and core network functionality. All of these can be acquired through one vendor, or each of these components may be acquired through separate providers. Enterprises looking to adopt PWNs must weigh the opportunity cost of shopping around for their components against potentially paying more upfront for an all-in-one solution.

Networks-in-a-box and Networks-as-a-Service (NaaS) are just two examples of how vendors can provide comprehensive solutions that may be more approachable for new adopters. Additionally, cellular operators can also be providers of private networks. Not only can they build the network, but they can also assure quality of the network by offering their licensed spectrum for the enterprise’s PWN. For a CBRS based solution, enterprises must also consider other vendors such as Spectrum Access System providers, in addition to radio and core hardware vendors

2. Identifying problems

It is also important that an enterprise has a clear understanding of its requirements and be ready to articulate the use-cases for which it is planning to employ a PWN. As discussed above, PWNs will be transformative to a host of industries, but these industries will have different needs. When identifying problems, facets like performance, security, and mobility are just a few elements an organization might consider when evaluating PWN solutions. Securing end-to-end network control and having a robust alternate to your existing Wi-Fi solution can also be presented as requirements. This is to say, different enterprises will have different digital transformation needs.

Take, for example, a real estate owner working on smart automation. They will have different requirements and Return-on-Investment (ROI) goals than an industrial facility that is incorporating robotics and artificial intelligence. Hospitals providing healthcare may consider ease of upgradability, low maintenance, and the highest level of reliability, while an agricultural application may prioritize a wide area of coverage over the level of data integrity and security a healthcare provider may need.

Other priorities, like utilizing licensed spectrum, such as the CBRS bands, can provide private network solutions and take advantage of extra bandwidth along with reducing the number of access points and physical infrastructure needed to be deployed. However, it might not be enough for some use cases that require roaming and ubiquitous connectivity. In short, an enterprise that has accurately identified problems and use cases for which it plans to build a PWN will be better positioned to find an appropriate PWN solution and vendor(s).

3. Choosing Spectrum

Selection of frequency bands can also play a big role in determining the right solution for the identified use cases. CBRS is in the mid-band region and provides a great option to balance coverage and capacity. However, propagation characteristics of low licensed bands can be lucrative for certain coverage driven IoT applications and going with mobile operators to deploy your private network would not be a bad idea. That option can guarantee the required bandwidth and may come as a more economical solution for many IoT based applications. Consider employing a Request for Information (RFI) process, as this usually allows an organization to crystalize its requirements. Request an ROI analysis from your vendor to understand how quickly you can justify the investment and expand the connectivity solutions to other venues.

4. Deployment

Once you select your vendor, plan to do a pilot before initiating the large-scale project for an entire venue. This will allow you to confirm some of the deployment and financial assumptions. If the deployment is performed by a mobile operator, you will want to verify the roaming and mobility components to ensure they were delivered as requested. A vendor-deployed PWN requires integration with the back-office systems as the PWN cannot stand alone. In that case, your vendor or managed service provider will have to make sure to integrate their public cloud with your private cloud.

Conclusion

PWNs present an exciting, and still emerging, host of solutions that promise to bring new efficiencies to industry. As new use cases are developed and tested, the path forward for enterprises will continue to change. However, the above presents some of the high-level considerations that organizations looking to deploy PWNs should keep in mind. While regulatory hurdles and challenges with integration into existing networks still exist, new solutions are always coming to market. To learn more about PWNs, you can join the industry at the Connectivity Expo, or “Connect (X)”, in Denver, Colorado (May 23 – 26). At the event, there will be ample opportunity to explore PWNs directly with industry experts through panels, like those on “How to Develop a Private Network Strategy” and “Wi-Fi and Private Cellular Network Coexistence,” in addition to opportunities to speak with vendors in the exhibit hall.